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St. Anne fills up in celebration of Guadalupe

For people of Mexican descent, this holiday is the biggest
by: Carole Archer, Francisca Rodriguez, 15, of Wood Village dances “The Dance of the Old Man of Urapicho” with traditional Michoacan State masked dancers also from Wood Village during the children’s Mass for the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration at St. Anne Catholic Church on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Hundreds of people filled the sanctuary of St. Anne Catholic Church on Tuesday, Dec. 12, to celebrate the anniversary of the Virgin of Guadalupe's appearance to Juan Diego.

So many people attend the celebrations that a field to the side of the church quickly becomes a parking lot.

'It's a real community builder,' said Father Michael Kueber.

For people of Mexican descent, the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the largest feast day of the Christian year - larger even than Christmas or Easter, Kueber said. The image of Guadalupe has become the most popular symbol in Mexico.

The celebration, held Dec. 12 each year, marks the birth of Catholicism in Mexico.

According to the story, in 1531, shortly after the Conquistadors took over the Aztec capital Tenochitlan, Catholic missionaries arrived in the area. They were largely unsuccessful in their attempts to convert the native people, Kueber said.

One of their first converts, a poor Indian named Juan Diego was walking in a desolate area north of Mexico City when a beautiful woman appeared before him.

She reportedly asked Diego to go to before the bishop, and ask him to build a temple in her name at the site. Diego followed her instructions, but the church officials did not believe him and asked for proof that he had seen the mother of God, Kueber said.

'It's a very hopeful message,' Kueber said. 'God cares for the poorest of the poor.'

When Diego returned to the hill, Guadalupe again greeted him, and he asked her for a sign. Even though it was the middle of winter, there were flowers in bloom, and Diego reportedly gathered them in his tilma, or blanket, and took them to the bishop.

When he opened the tilma, there was an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe exactly as Diego had seen her on the blanket.

The image was the gospel in pictorial form - a form the indigenous people could understand, Kueber said.

'The blessing of Guadalupe is that she brings together two cultures,' Kueber said, adding that he hopes to do the same thing through services at the church.

'It's a chance for us to be hospitable and welcoming,' he said.

In the weeks leading up to the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a signup sheet is posted in the foyer of the church, so members' 'Padrinos' or God parents, can pledge money for the celebration, Kueber said.

This allows the church to be able to pay for extras like the mariachi band and the horn group that performed banda music as part of the mañanitas or 'little mornings.'

During the mañanitas, which were held at midnight and 4 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, the participants serenade the virgin to welcome her.

Along with the usual prayers and reading of the scripture, the parishioners also dress up and reenact Guadalupe's appearance to Diego.

In Mexico, flowers are a symbol of the divine, Kueber said, adding that this belief manifests itself in the armfuls of flowers parishioners bring to set before the image of Guadalupe.

After the final blessing at the mañanitas, many people stay and sing songs of love to Guadalupe, he said. The doors to the sanctuary remain open all day for those who wish to bring flowers for the virgin or have their images of Guadalupe blessed.

For the past two years, the church has also offered a bilingual children's Mass as part of the celebration.

The celebration continues throughout the afternoon and the evening of Dec. 12 with a children's Mass, a concert and a traditional Mass.

Catholics venerate Mary, Jesus' mother, as she presents one's prayers to God, Kueber said, but they do not worship her.

A basilica for Guadalupe, who is known as the 'patron of the Americas,' was dedicated at the site of Diego's vision in 1976.